An American Werewolf In London


Viewed – 31 October 2020 Blu-ray

Director John Landis’ 1981 classic remains one of my all-time favourite movies. It’s the perfect balance of horror with comedy and also works as a particularly tragic love story. it also has (still) the best werewolf transformation ever commuted to film, and in this age of CGI overdose I doubt it will ever be beaten. Telling the story of David, an American backpacking in England with his friend Jack, who following a strange encounter with the locals of the ‘slaughtered lamb’, wonders onto the moors, and gets attacked by a werewolf. Sometime later he awakens in a London hospital and begins to have strange dreams and visits from beyond the grave warning him he’s destined to become a hairy beast next full moon.

Beware the moon…

The setup is stuff of horror legend, and is a sort of loose remake of those classic werewolf movies from the 1950s, given a modern twist that still works today, almost 40 years later. The fact the effects work still stands up is very much down to the sheer skill of makeup wiz Rick Baker (who got an Oscar for his trouble). Jenny Agutter is here as a (particularly attractive) nurse who befriends and quickly falls for David and her relationship with the would-be monster is convincing and quite touching. It’s also a snappily paced ride, skilfully jumping from one event to the next, and when it’s funny (the bumbling cops, Jack’s deadpan line-delivery “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”) it never feels out of place. The same goes for when it delivers the horror – somehow it just all works. The music should also get a special mention, with each song title having some mention of the moon, and they are all delivered memorably. This is Landis’ best movie, the tone, those classic sequences (the tube station scene) and a simple concept brilliantly put together makes for not just a great horror movie – but one of the ‘great’ movies.

The Blu-ray limited edition I picked from Arrow Video is a collector’s dream. Housed in a hard case and with specially created artwork, a fold-out poster, art cards and a detailed booklet – that’s just the start. The movie, although grainy boasts a new restoration and is in great shape – with impressive detail along with good colour vibrancy and depth in dark scenes. The soundtrack in a choice of the original mono and 5.1. DTS Master Audio has clear dialogue and especially showcases the music cues. Surrounds also come alive during the climactic Piccadilli Circus sequence. Extras consist of two commentaries; one from actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, and the other with filmmaker Paul Davis. Add to this several making of/behind the scenes featurettes and interviews with John Landis and Rick Baker, story boards, outtakes etc and this is one impressive package.

Verdict:

(the movie) Essential

(the Blu-ray) Essential

An American Werewolf In London


Viewed – 10 October 2009  Blu-ray

If there was a top ten best horror movies of all time, I think few would disagree with me that this would be in the top five.  Directed in 1981 by John Landis, pretty much no film about werewolves has been able to capture the magic of this entry, one of the few horror movies to be both scary and funny.  Griffin Dunne and David Naughton play two American back packers who are attacked on the moors one night during a full moon.  Suffice to say, David survives but is cursed to becoming a werewolf, yet chooses to ignore the warnings of his undead friend whilst falling for a nurse (Jenny Agutter). 

An-American-Werewolf-in-L-001

Played with tongue firmly in cheek but with moments of genuine scares and top-notch gore, this movie works so well, and hasn’t dated one bit.  Landis’ accomplished imagery, a script filled with quotable lines such as ‘a naked american man stole my balloons!’, ‘Beware the moon’ etc as well as the moon-themed soundtrack that kicks in at exactly the right time, forms a perfect recipe of uncomfortable comedy, with an atmosphere all it’s own.  Much has been said about Rick Baker’s Oscar winning make up effects, and now even 28 years later, it still looks fantastic, not only the much acclaimed werewolf transformation, but also the moments of gore and violence (especially Griffin Dunne’s first undead appearance).  Add to this top acting marks from the three principal leads, with a never sexier Jenny Agutter, and well, what can I say – this movie is a classic.

The Blu-ray has an obviously improved picture from the previous 21st anniversary edition, being both brighter and sharper but retains much of the flaws of the original print, such as heavy grain, a slight shimmering effect and subdued colours.  The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack however shines with clear dialogue and a punchy result from the numerous music moments.  Most importantly though for this release is that in addition to the extras carried over from the DVD we get a brand new feature-length documentary, making this currently the best release of the movie to date.

Verdict:  5 /5